French cycling star Julian Alaphilippe looms as the international rider to beat at January’s Tour Down Under.
Landing the two-time world road champion as a confirmed starter for the World Tour stage race is a big win for event director Stuart O’Grady.
No French rider has won the Tour Down Under, which started in 1999 and is Australian cycling’s flagship annual event.
It will open a big season for Alaphilippe, whose form has waned over the last couple of years and is in the last year of his contract with Belgian team Soudal-QuickStep.
Team boss Patrick Lefevere has been critical of Alaphilippe, whose cousin and coach Franck reportedly has left Soudal-QuickStep.
While this year’s race featured Tour de France champions including Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, the week-long Adelaide event is better suited to a rider of Alaphilippe’s strengths.
Alaphilippe is one of the sport’s premier ‘puncheurs’, a rider who excels on rolling terrain and short but steep climbs – the course profile for much of next year’s Adelaide race
His inclusion adds a fascinating dimension to the January 16-21 Tour, which is billed as having the hardest last couple of days in the event’s 25-year history.
After the Willunga Hill finish on the Saturday, the following day’s final stage features another summit duel at Mt Lofty in the Adelaide Hills.
Alaphilippe, who is renowned for his aggressive racing style, is licking his lips at the prospect.
“There are many undulating roads and tough climbs throughout various stages of this race, but I’m particularly excited to revisit Willunga Hill along with Mt Lofty for the first time, as I believe both will provide great opportunities for our team to finish strong,” the Soudal-QuickStep team leader said.
Alaphilippe’s only previous visit to the Tour Down Under was in 2014, his World Tour debut.
He has gone on to become one of road cycling’s premier riders, winning the 2020 and 2021 world road championships.
Alaphilippe has won six Tour de France stages, as well as the 2019 Milan-Sanremo one-day monument.
He took out the King Of The Mountains category at the 2018 Tour de France and has worn the race’s prized yellow jersey as overall leader for a total of 18 days.
“I expect Alaphilippe to do very well in the hardest final weekend of TDU racing history,” O’Grady said.
“He is a true champion of our sport, and a born entertainer.”